Monday, November 26, 2012

Answered Prayer

Affirmation:  I believe in answered prayer.
Faith, what does that look like to you?  My husband says it’s “trust on steroids.”  It has also been said the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty.  I am not certain.  I have listened to others talk about their faith and their relationship with God or for Christians like myself, with Jesus.  I have heard the stories of the “born again.”  Many times I am filled with envy and always I am filled with quite a few questions.  My faith journey has been slow and steady, climbing up, slipping down, ever hopeful that I don’t slip below my last starting place.
I have not found it easy to be faith filled.  I have to work at it every day.  I appreciate being told, “It’s the work of a lifetime.”  I hope, too, that my lifetime is long enough to get me to a place where I can fully trust in God’s love and care for me and for my loved ones.
I love to read and hear the sermons about God’s bountiful love and care for us, His or Her children.  There are many preachers who see God as this entity that only wants what’s best for us.  And, they lead me to believe that His/Her best is also my best.  There is where the difficulty lies. I keep wondering where martyrs fit in this picture of divine love and care.  On February 22, 2011 a group of four Americans were captured and killed off the coast of Somali.  They were sailing around the world since December 2004, on the yacht of Jean and Scott Adams.  The Quest was their home, this couple from California.  The two other Americans on board were Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, Washington.  When I first heard about Jean and Scott, they had been captured by pirates and were being held hostage.  They were then surrounded by the US navy and other helping vessels but, before they could be rescued, they were shot dead.
I was truly inspired by their adventurous spirit when I first heard the story of their mission.  I know there must be many people who have the same spirit and I just haven’t heard about all of them.  But, Jean and Scott were in their 70s and they were sailing to remote parts of the world to share the word of God.  Yes, I know a lot of people are missionaries and I am usually in awe of anyone who lives a life so far out of most people’s comfort zone.  They were not what I consider young and here they were so far from their support systems.  What would they have done if they got sick, or injured, or needed a dentist or as a friend commented to me, "If Jean needed a massage, or a facial?"  Obviously, their mindset was very different than most people.
But, if they died doing God’s work, as have so many martyrs, why should I believe that Jesus will take care of me?  Oh, yes, I would like to believe that.  We don’t get everything we ask for, sometimes it seems like someone isn’t’ even out there.  Thankfully, sometimes we get something even better than we could have imagined.  I can recall several specific times in my life when I was praying in general for one thing and something so much better came along.  It can take my breath away.  When my oldest daughter, Melissa, was a single parent we, her father and I, prayed daily for her well-being.  We didn’t know exactly what that would look like but we knew we didn’t want her and her children to endure undue hardship.  We were there for them in every way we could be but we wanted her to be able to care for herself and her children.  We wanted her to be independent and self-sufficient in every way possible.  Our prayers were answered beyond our wildest expectations when she met Larry.  Not only did she find someone amazing to share her life with but along with him came two wonderful new grandsons.
One day I was overcome with worry about my mom.  I was at a loss about how to help her and she was not capable of helping herself.  I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility that I simply turned it over to God.  I prayed, “Lord, I do not know what to do.  Please send help.”  Then, I waited.  It wasn’t long before the phone rang and right after that my family arrived, called and accompanied me to my mom’s home.  A new “on call” physician arrived and before I knew it, mom was feeling better.  I hadn’t even had time to stop and thank God for His/Her response.  As I reflected later, I began to see the blessings that had been sent and then I had to choose.  Was it just the universe stepping into support us?  Would it have happened even if I didn’t say a prayer?  Maybe, but I did pray and it gave me great comfort to believe the help we received was answered prayer.  I want to believe in answered prayer.  I know I will never understand it but I believe with every fiber of my being that prayer makes a difference.  If I can tap into the belief that my prayers are always answered, in a way that only benefits me, think of the peace that can be mine.  It has been promised, you know, Mathew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I believe God never leaves me, if I ask Him/Her to be with me.  It is I who comes and goes.  I believe that through my faith, I will be able to deal with whatever life throws at me.  And, that whatever that is, through faith, it will be miraculously transformed into something good, maybe something great, something beyond my wildest imagination. I need to believe.  I have chosen to believe.  I have chosen the theology and doctrine that I grew up with.  It’s not perfect but it enables me to live life with less fear and anxiety than I could without it.  I believe it because I want to believe.  That’s what most of my affirmations revolve around, what I want to believe.   Yes, a loving caring God.  I know this question has been asked and examined many times around topics even more horrendous than what Jean and Scott endured.  Topics like:  war, famine, child abuse, cancer and other life threatening or debilitating diseases.  Perhaps, it’s not what happens to us, no matter how difficult; perhaps it’s how we perceive what happens to us?  Perhaps if we practice trusting God, we can go to our death with dignity and grace regardless of the circumstances, knowing that this life is temporary and because of our faith, because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I will share in the glory of heaven.  My faith and trust in Him, will secure me life everlasting, with Him and all the Saints and Angels.  That’s why I believe and why I am still working on it.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Path to Health; Forgiveness

Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.

What does it mean to forgive someone?  What does forgiveness look like?  Does it mean you must now become the offender’s friend?  Does it mean you must forget whatever happened that unsettled you or brought you pain?  Is forgiveness an emotion or a conscious decision?  Once you make that decision, are you done or is it a process?

Have you ever had something happen in your life that you could not let go of? Something that seemed to haunt you? Something that you were sure you had "gotten over" that kept appearing? Something that kept coming up even in your dreams?

Forgiveness is a topic that appears in all spiritual teachings and in many writings about improving one’s physical health. Of course, one can’t really separate the two. Forgiveness is a letting go of resentment and hurt.  It offers one the opportunity to let go of perceived or actual injuries and move forward.  It does not demand that you dismiss someone's poor behavior or that you and your offender need to continue a relationship.  It is not an emotion, it is a conscious decision and it can take a lot of work!

I can be fascinated by my own reaction to what I think is a “done deal.”  I’m sure I’ve put that issue behind me.  I’ve prayed about it, I’ve journaled about it and I’ve made a conscious decision to not hold onto whatever it is that has caused me pain, whether or not it was intentional.  “I’m good with that,” I tell myself and then something happens, there’s some recollection of the event and whoosh, I feel like I’m starting all over again and I probably am but if I’ve worked on it, I’m probably starting a little further up the spiral than in the beginning. 

The Buddhists say when you don’t forgive someone it’s like holding a hot coal in your hand and expecting it to burn the other person.  Christ’s main message was about love and forgiveness.  Even after he had been tortured and humiliated, He asked his Father to forgive His persecutors.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34) The one prayer he taught us, The Our Father, says, “...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  One of the church studies in which I have participated, focused on forgiveness as a tool to bring one closer to God and at one of the yoga workshops I attended which was taught in the tradition of TIch Nat Han, the focus was also on forgiveness.

The Mayo Clinic has a whole web site devoted to how forgiveness promotes health and healing. ( There’s also a healing movement that encourages people who have lost loved ones to violent crimes to connect with the criminal and to offer an olive branch.  I cannot even imagine the fortitude and stamina that such a process must take but there are those amazing people out there who accomplish such a monumental feat.  

My book group read, The Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold Catherine Taylor. It's the fictional story of the wife of Charles Dickens. It created a great deal of conversation, which is one reason I am part of a book group. In the story this woman went about healing herself of every shred of animosity she had with regard to those who had mistreated her in her life. And, she was very poorly treated, even, some would say, abused. Her husband disowned her, made her leave her home and 6 of her 8 living children. Her sister took over the household and kept the family from contacting her. Her husband had what everyone thought was a mistress. Even after her children were grown, they did not connect with her. She had a lot to be angry about. She had a lot of justified reasons for resentment and she had quite a bit, as you can well imagine. But, after her husband died, she openly accepted those people in her family who wanted to make restitution. She didn't demand a thing from them, other than an open mind and heart. She even took herself to her husband's rumored mistress and made peace with her.

What do you think? Was she a weak, desperate person or was she wise and strong? Was she so used to being used as a doormat that she no longer knew how to stand up for herself, or was she so relieved to let go of years of loneliness and shunning? All I can tell you, is that I found her actions to make peace with her pain, inspiring. Oh, it's so easy to hold onto resentments, to work them over in our minds until we know we are right and our nemesis is oh, so very wrong, perhaps even evil. But, truly, when I do that, those emotions, those conversations I have with myself, don't disturb that other person in any way. The only one who is unsettled and disturbed is me.

One of my daily readings comes from a book called, Spiritual Insights for Daily Living.  I’ve discovered that some things have longer “tails” than others.  They can be draining and unsettling. Sometimes, I can't even imagine why these thoughts that keep coming up, have become so insistent, so obsessive. The reading from January 21st helped me with this issue. "I am now ready for a cleansing--getting rid of debris that I have harbored much too long. Anyone who at any time may have contributed to causing disharmony within me, I bring into consciousness and I see them clearly and honestly. As I visualize them, I say with feeling and complete sincerity: "I fully and freely forgive you."  

We are called to forgive “seventy times seven.”  (Matthew18:22)  One of my studies called the injuries we carry with us “wounds of the heart.”  We were encouraged to carefully look back on our lives and make note of every wound that had been inflicted upon us.  Certainly, I’ve been very lucky and didn’t see any reason to pursue this line of healing.  But, I would participate simply because I was part of the group and this was our assignment.  Once I cracked open the box that held all those wounds, I was stunned to see just how many were still in there.  I had things hiding in that box I hadn’t thought of in years!  Once the list began, I actually found some pleasure in making it.  Not only were old acquaintances on that list, but my church was there and once in awhile, God’s name came up.  Then too I found way down in the bottom, my own name.  So many things of which I had not yet forgiven myself. 

Wounds of the heart take up space, space that can be used for love and for compassion.  What to do with them?  Now that I could see them clearly, it was time to turn them over to God, an angel or two, maybe a spiritual guide.  I visualized my taking the list and folding it and placing it in a new box.  I closed the lid, locked the lock and placed it way up on a shelf that would take a lot of effort to reach.  I am surprised when I find it has popped open on its own and I have to reseal it. There are other more tangible techniques that you may choose.  One would be to actually burn the list. Do whatever it takes to begin the healing.  Yes, it takes me longer to let go of somethings than others. But, it really helps me to tell myself;  I freely forgive myself and others. I know by putting this affirmation into practice, I am happier, I am more peaceful and I am healthier. Truly, there are no justified resentments. Let them all go, especially, I repeat, especially the ones you hold towards yourself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blessings & Friends

I accept my friends as they are, fully appreciate the ways they bless my life and hold them in my daily prayers.

There has been much written about how a social support system can bolster one's immunity.  Not only do they increase our proclivity towards good health but they can increase our chances for a long, fulfilling life. 

Relationships take work.  Two people can meet and experience "love at first sight" but, if that relationship is to survive, better yet thrive, it usually means it needs to be nurtured.

Some friendships are low maintenance and others require a lot of effort.  Friendships can wax and wane.  How many people have you had in your life that seemed to just disappear?  It's all a natural part of life although sometimes it can be hard to understand. 

I've lived many different places and found myself almost completely on my own many times, especially those initial days after my husband and I had just moved.  When we moved to Norwich, NY, a town of 7,000 people in 1971, I spent my first day in a motel room with our six week old daughter while my husband began his new job.  The following weeks weren't much easier but this little town had a Newcomer's Club with child care that saved my sanity, if not my life.  Some of those women (yes, we were all women) are still in my life and we, my husband and I left there in 1976. 

One of our moves took us to Cincinnati, Ohio.  I felt like I'd landed on the moon.  We arrived there with two small children.  One of my first calls was to the local Newcomer's Club where I was informed I couldn't join; I wasn't living within their accepted boundaries.  And, such a club did not exist in my area.  Goodbye!  As I stood there wondering what I should do next, I saw someone standing at the backyard gate.  She waved and entered my life, a new friend.  Thank God! 

While in Cincinnati one woman shared with me that she noticed some newcomers moving in down her street.  I asked if she'd gone to meet them.  "No," she replied "I don't have time for any more people in my life."  I was glad I hadn’t moved by her.  That's when I realized many of the people in our neighborhood felt the same way.  It made me sad.  It still makes me sad and that was many years ago.  When we moved from that community one of the neighbors said to me "Moving again, honey?"  We had been in our home almost ten years!  The interesting part of this experience was that those neighbors who maintained a more open, adventurous approach to new relationships were truly remarkable people, many of whom became very dear friends and who to this day we still consider dear friends. 

We have now lived in North Carolina for over twenty-five years.  We've been very active in the Triangle community, supporting, joining and working for many organizations.  We've been mostly blessed by the relationships and friendships we've forged.  I once heard a woman proclaim that once she stopped going to her children's school bus stop, she stopped making new friends.  I haven't been to a school bus stop in over thirty years but by embracing life, trying new things and staying committed to those I enjoy, new and wonderful friends keep appearing.  Both my husband and I embrace those good folks who open their lives, homes and hearts to new relationships. 

We need those relationships.  We need to have people in our lives, other than family, who care for us and for whom we care.  Each person in our life brings a different blessing.  One may be someone you can go to with health issues, another someone with whom you play.  Another may be of a similar spiritual proclivity, while another may not be and cause you to question and grow.  One may be someone who likes to take a walk and another who likes to sit and talk.  One may live close by and share in several of your activities and another may live far away and connects only periodically. 

Sometimes we choose to end a friendship and at other times that ending is chosen for us.  When there is a clear reason for the dissolution of the relationship it can be easier to let go and move on but when it remains a puzzle, it can be much more difficult to disconnect.  This rift can create a wound in the heart that may require a healing balm; prayer, counseling or both.  There is not always a clear vision of why someone has chosen to drop out of our lives.  We can find ourselves wondering what we did when many times it had very little to do with us.  I had a longtime friend who dropped me very suddenly and no matter how I reached out, there was absolutely no response.  I couldn’t imagine what I had done.  Several months later I ran into a mutual friend of ours and was told she had stopped contacting him too.  Eventually, we found out that she was suffering from severe depression and had disconnected herself from everyone.  It reminded me of calling someone and having them hang up on me as I stood there wondering what in the world I had done to cause such a reaction only to find out there was an emergency taking place.

There are times, however, when it is essential to end a relationship especially when that friendship has become toxic; when the friendship saps your energy and is causing you to become unwell.  When you have done all in your power but to no avail to sooth the distress this relationship is causing, it is probably time to walk away.  I feel it is best to let that person know you wish there was another way but for your well-being you need to separate.  It's never easy, although the other person probably also recognizes there's a problem.  But, even in our difficult friendships there are blessings to be found.  Even those people who drove us crazy added to the fiber and the color of our lives.  Perhaps they are the reason we are as strong and resourceful as we are; by dealing with them we learned how to care for ourselves without holding onto any ill will.

My favorite friendships are those that develop because of similar interests and scheduled activities.  They always seem like the easiest.  These remind me of baking a cake.  Once I've mixed all the ingredients and poured them into the pan, I simply have to put it in the oven and watch it rise.  But, not all relationships afford us with those easy opportunities.  Many of my friendships must be carefully nurtured to make sure they are sustained and continue to grow.  I may have to do this by setting aside specific times to share a meal; perhaps it means an email or even an old fashioned letter.  I love to send snail-mail birthday cards.  

My goal is to maintain healthy, enriching friendships while also keeping enough energy to care for myself.  It can be a very thin line especially with the availability of connecting via all the latest technologies; email, Facebook, Twitter etc.  It seems every day I decide how much energy is going into my relationships and how much I must reserve for myself.  One way I do this is by praying daily for my friends, those far and near, those dear and daunting, those easy and challenging.  I believe that my prayers will bless their lives and that way, even if I’m not actively contacting them, they are in my thoughts and in God’s hands.  My intention is to value each friend for who they are and what they bring into my life.  I'm not here to judge them.  I am here to simply accept them and whenever possible to love and support them.  It helps me to remind myself "I accept my friends as they are, fully appreciate the ways they bless my life and hold them in my daily prayers."